Don't Write What Makes You Cry

Grace is what helps you actually write around something.

Sometimes, there is a peace in finding a happy diversion, something to distract that part of your brain that feels.

The last few blog pieces have been dancing about in this way—I’ve written about dueling cats, a neighbor who wanted to raise 20,000 egg-laying chickens, this very long winter we’ve had. But I knew when I found myself writing about the weather that it had to be to not write about something else.

I’ve been writing all of these things so I don’t have to write about the fact that my father is dying.

Some days, you know how you just need to keep that part of your mind dormant? It’s that part that remembers how my dad used to cheerfully wake me up Saturday mornings collecting the garbage out of my room. He’d say, rustling the wastebasket, “Wake up, sleepyhead! It’s 8:00 am!” He’d try to get me to go to the dump with him. I outgrew all that by the time I was 12.

My dad was always a morning person. That was terribly annoying when I was a teenager. Now, I’m the morning person, I’m the one waking up my own teenager. And I’m the one waking my father up when I visit him at his nursing home. He opens his dark brown eyes, and they start to smile sleepily before the rest of him does—but then I see that familiar crooked grin.

He’s been in a nursing home a while because of a head injury he had six years ago. But even though he is borderline diabetic and has high blood pressure, he’s been strong, and stoic, and other than a little dementia, it seemed like he’d go on forever.

We just learned a few weeks ago that he is dying. My less-than-favorite doctor said, “N., do you understand that you are going to die?”  And he added, “I am going to repeat myself because Daughter #1 tells me that you don’t always remember everything.”

He then did just that, sharing a few more details about my dad’s organs shutting down. And then he said, “Questions?” He offered to give me, Daughter #2, a hug, which I declined.

After the doctor left the room, I started to cry. And then my dad started to cry. He never cries. The only time I ever saw him cry is when my mother died.

He whispered, “I don’t want to die! I’m only 80!”

I laughed.

“Dad, you’re almost 85,” I said.

And he said, “But I wanted to live to be 100!”

He won’t see 100, and maybe not even 85. He is going into renal failure. The good thing is he’s not in any pain—he’s just sleeping more, slowly weakening, and drifting away.

Most days, we find him with the TV on. Although he is asleep so much, it’s more like the TV is watching himSaturday, he slept through part of a Rocky marathon. When I arrived on Sunday to visit him, RockyII was on again. So together, we watched the moment when Rocky pulls himself up on the ropes to become heavyweight champion of the world.

Why do you wanna fight, Rocky?

Because I can’t sing or dance.

I remember the smell of fresh-cut sawdust off my dad’s table saw in our basement. How he could take any antique scrap of something  and convert it into something useful—a wheel into a glass-top table; an old Ivory box into a sign; a guitar into a knick-knack shelf. He made me a bunk bed when I was in college for our too-small-to-be-a-double apartment.

He was an engineer—he understood how the world worked. He could rebuild cars. He could identify almost any aircraft since WWII. And he gave us everything he could, everything we needed. He wanted his children to have the most magnificent lives. He wanted us to do something remarkable.

When we were driving somewhere in the car, he would often say, “What do you know for sure?”

And I’d always say, “I don’t know.”

Now, after we’ve been sitting there in silence for a while, with him drifting in and out of sleep, when he opens his eyes, I say to him, “What do you know for sure?”

And he just smiles.

If he asks me that today, I will say, I’m going to miss you, Dad.